I am writing as Chairman of the UNA-UK Board of Directors to encourage you to take part in our General Meeting on 24 November 2011.
The forthcoming General Meeting is one of the most important that UNA-UK has held in recent times. At the meeting, the UNA-UK Board is asking members to:
Adopt UNA-UK’s new four-year strategic plan, and
Approve the merger of UNA-UK and the UNA Trust into a new charitable company.
This is the culmination of a five-year process started by my predecessor as UNA-UK Chairman, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, to make the organisation more effective and responsive to the 21st Century context in which it operates, in terms of outreach, support and policy impact.
I firmly believe that the changes being proposed by the UNA-UK Board will give us a stronger platform from which to appeal to funders, decision-makers and new supporters, helping us to achieve our objectives and build a sustainable funding base.
At this General Meeting we will be setting the course for the organisation for the next decade. As UNA-UK Chairman, I therefore urge all members to read the information in this email and to participate in the meeting.
I hope that as many people as possible will attend this important meeting. Please remember that if you are not planning to attend, you can still vote by using the attachedproxy voting form.
The sections below provide information on:
Why the Board is recommending these steps
General Meeting arrangements and how to vote by post
Hard copies of all these documents can be requested by contacting UNA-UK on +44 (0)20 7766 3454 or email@example.com
Securing our future: the Board’s recommendations
UNA-UK has a proud record of mobilising civil society and influencing decision-makers in pursuit of UN ideals. In recent years, we have achieved a great deal: our campaigning work has had a significant impact in areas such as arms control, nuclear disarmament, disability rights, war crimes legislation and UK support for the UN. We have also recovered – through prudent financial planning and fundraising – from the severe hardship UNA-UK faced in 2004.
But we continue to face many challenges. The present operating environment is tough for organisations like UNA-UK that have to compete with an increasing number of charities for funds, supporters and influence.
Over the last year, our project funding from the UK government has dropped by 90%, and the major grants that have supported us over the past few years are entering their final stages. While growth in our supporter base, particular amongst young people, is encouraging, it is not enough to make up this shortfall in funding, nor indeed to counteract the steady decline in our membership figures – a problem that we, like other traditional membership organisations, have faced for decades.
The Board strongly believes in the value of UNA-UK as a membership organisation and remains committed to our role as a people’s movement for the UN, inspired by the opening words of the UN Charter: ‘we the peoples’. However, the Board recognises that if we are to survive these challenging times and achieve our objectives, we must do more to generate income, attract new members and supporters, and build a sustainable funding base.
Our new strategic plan outlines how UNA-UK plans to campaign for change in the world whilst re-tooling itself to become an effective and well-resourced organisation. The most important step towards achieving this is merging with the UNA Trust and becoming one consolidated charitable organisation.
As a new charity, we will be able to increase our effectivness, appeal to new donors and – most importantly – continue to campaign for peace, development and human rights. It is the best way for the organisation to safeguard its future viability.
I hope that all UNA-UK members will support the Board of Directors and cast a vote in this important meeting.
All paid-up members of UNA-UK have the right to attend and vote at the General Meeting, and will have received the formal notice (attached) with their copy of the Winter 2011 issue of New World magazine.
If you are a paid-up member of the Association and are not planning to attend, you can appoint another person to vote for you. This person is called a ‘proxy’.
The attached proxy voting form enables you to appoint a proxy to vote on your behalf. You must indicate on the form either how you would like the proxy to vote or that the proxy can vote as they see fit.
Forms must be returned to Carol Hodson, Deputy Director, by 2pm on Tuesday 22 November.
If you are not sure who is going to the meeting, remember that you can nominate a member of the UNA-UK Board of Directors, including the Chairman, to act as your proxy.
In November 2010, the UNA-UK Board embarked on a strategic-planning process because:
We need to act now to generate income and diversify our funding base
We need to respond to the challenging financial environment for the third sector in the UK
We need to create strategic priorities in line with major developments arising during the next four years, such as the target date for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals
We had reached the end of the period for our current strategic objectives
The overall purpose was to equip UNA-UK members, supporters, Board and staff with momentum, clarity of purpose and a platform from which to build a vibrant organisation.
How was the plan developed?
The draft plan that will be voted on at the General Meeting was developed over the last 12 months in consultation with UNA-UK members. In early 2011, seven regional ‘roadshows’ for members were held around the UK. Input was also sought from stakeholders such as key partners in the UN, government, Parliament and NGOs.
A first draft was published in June 2011 and made available to members participating in UNA-UK’s Policy Conference on 18 June 2011. At the conference, the plan was discussed and the policy content amended and endorsed. After the conference, a new draft was produced in the light of feedback received at the event. On 29 July 2011, the Board wrote to all UNA-UK members asking for feedback on this revised draft. A summary and compendium of all feedback received is available on the UNA-UK website: www.una.org.uk/generalmeeting
The vast majority of respondents were broadly happy with the plan, with a quarter of the responses containing a general endorsement and no other comments. 91% of those who commented on the plans to seek charitable status were in favour of the move.
Resourcing UNA-UK: charitable status – one organisation, one message
On 29 September 2011, the UNA-UK Board decided, after many years of deliberation, to recommend charitable status for UNA-UK, with a view to forming a new charitable company with the UNA Trust at a future date.
Why should UNA-UK seek charitable status?
Since 1968, the ‘United Nations Association’ in the UK has functioned as two legally-separate entities: UNA-UK (a non-charitable company) and the UNA Trust (a registered charity). The issue of whether UNA-UK should seek charitable status and form a new charitable company with the UNA Trust has been discussed several times, at meetings of the UNA-UK Board, the UNA Trust trustees and the UNA-UK membership.
In 2007, a straw poll at the UNA-UK Conference showed overwhelming support by UNA-UK members for seeking charitable status. This support was demonstrated again in 2011 when 91% of members who commented on UNA-UK’s plans to seek charitable status were in favour of this move.
The reasons put forward included:
A consolidated, charitable organisation will present a clearer, more compelling narrative for UNA-UK. All UNA-UK members and UNA Trust donors will be part of one organisation – the only organisation in the UK that has the UN at its centre – and one that is stronger for it.
It will enable more time to be spent on campaigning, membership and outreach – at present, the UNA-UK staff spend much time servicing two separate organisations (two sets of annual accounts, two audit processes, two cycles of quarterly Board meetings etc). A single organisation will greatly free up staff time and enable it to be re-directed towards achieving UNA-UK’s policy objectives.
It will enable UNA-UK to save money – a single organisation will also make considerable savings in administration, audit and committee costs. We anticipate savings of around £20,000 a year.
It will help UNA-UK to access a wider pool of funders and donors – at present, UNA-UK is unable to apply to a number of funding organisations simply because it is not a charity. Whilst we cannot be sure how much extra income we will raise, we have already identified several new sources of funding.
It will increase income from current members – through Gift Aid, UNA-UK believes it could increase the value of membership subscriptions and donations by at least £10,000 per year.
It will increase accountability to the UNA-UK membership – for instance, the new Board of Trustees proposed for the new organisation will have a greater proportion of directors directly elected by members
Moreover, many of UNA-UK’s activities (e.g. educational initiatives, poverty relief) are already charitable and much of the organisation’s income is already subject to charitable requirements as it comes from charitable sources.
So why is the Board recommending charitable status now?
There have always been compelling reasons for UNA-UK to seek charitable status but prior to 2006 the Board was concerned that the move might curtail the organisation’s ability to undertake campaigning work. In 2006, however, a new Charities Act for England and Wales* was passed, containing provisions that re-defined the activities that charities can engage in, notably to include “campaigning and political activity as a positive way of furthering or supporting their purposes”.
Guidance from the Charity Commission gives the following examples of activities that charities can undertake:
Activities aimed at securing or opposing a change in the law or policy or decisions of a central government, local authorities or other public bodies, whether in this country or abroad. (The Charity Commission includes the UN in its definiton of ‘public bodies’.)
Calling on a government to e.g. observe certain fundamental human rights, end the practice of torture etc.
Campaigning e.g. against investment by some banks in fossil fuel extraction
Seeking to influence political parties, decision-makers, politicians or public servants
There is one exception and one caveat. The exception is party political activity, which UNA-UK, currently a non-party-political organisation, does not engage in. The caveat is that campaigning does not become the only activity the organisation engages in. As UNA-UK carries out multiple functions at any one time – education, public information, membership etc –this scenario is unlikely to happen without major changes to the organisation’s work and priorities.
* Members should note that UNA-UK branches, regions and nations (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) will not be affected by UNA-UK”s decision to seek charitable status as they are already legally and financially autonomous. More information is included in the links below.